Monday, January 24, 2011

Coq au Vin

Last week I was in New York City.  I spent five days walking the snowy streets of Manhattan from meeting to meeting, lunch to brunch to dinner.  I ate pizza at Otto, late night burgers in Gramercy, and sipped wine at the Blue Ribbon Bar.  Amid a bit of business, I had a chance to see some good friends, as well as a pretty awesome exhibit on kitchen design.  I stayed with my brother in his studio apartment, where I slept on an air mattress on the floor and after 24 hours, already desperately missing my bed, I began to wonder whether I’m getting old.

But despite an aching back and little sleep, Manhattan beckoned with its familiar urban details: the women in four-inch heels avoiding slush puddles on the sidewalk edge, taxis honking at all hours of the night.  I’ve missed the hectic swoosh of commuters through Grand Central Station and the greasy scents coming from the hot dog and kabob vendors scattered through Midtown.  I love the anonymity of walking down the street in New York—any street, at any time—where absolutely no one knows who you are.  I love the excitement of the city, the silence amid the overcrowded noise. 

On the Saturday night of my trip, my little brother, who works in real estate, took me out to dinner.  My mother and her boyfriend, Charley, were also in town, and they came, too.  We went to the Union Square Café, a classy joint serving high-end American food, one that’s been around for 25 years, a lifetime in New York.  We sat at a cozy table in a back corner of the restaurant and ate oysters while drinking a bottle of Sancerre.  Later, there was beef carpaccio, a Cara Cara orange salad, and scallops served with hazelnuts, sunchokes, and brown butter.  To finish: a Calamansi lime tart, which sparkled alongside tiny sips of port. 

When we left the restaurant, close to midnight, I stood out on the street, steps away from the bustle of Union Square, waiting for my family to put on their coats.  It was cold, and I could see my breath cloud the air.  I could still taste the citrus from the dessert on my lips.  The night was strangely silent.  Even the taxi, which drove slowly past, looked oddly alone.  I felt lucky, and I felt full.  And you know what?  I missed home.

Now here’s a clunky transition:

Coq au Vin.

I have a recipe for coq au vin that I’ve been meaning to share for a while now.  I’ve made it a number of times this winter already—for big dinner parties, as well as for just Matt and me.  Cooking, it fills the apartment with the scent of chicken, red wine and thyme.  If there is any recipe that reminds me of my new home in Boston, this is it.  

"One of the classics of French cuisine, coq au vin may sound fancy, but at heart it is really nothing more than a simple braised chicken dish," they write in The Best Slow & Easy Recipes, one of my favorite Cook's Illustrated cookbooks.  "Chicken is cooked in a red wine sauce and finished with bacon, glazed pearl onions, and sauteed mushrooms.  At its best, coq au vin is a boldly flavored dish, the acidity of the wine rounded out by rich, salty bacon and sweet caramelized onions and mushrooms.  The chicken acts like a sponge, soaking up those same dark, compelling flavors."

This coq au vin is easy to make ahead, chill overnight, and then reheat before dinner.  It can be served alongside noodles, polenta, or even rice.  But I like it with a big hunk of crusty bread, best used to mop up the sauce.  Eaten like this, perhaps while sitting on the couch, you couldn’t be much farther away from high end Manhattan, from high heels and expensive wine.  Sometimes, that’s the best possible thing.

Coq au Vin
Serves 4 - 6

6 ounces (5 slices) thick-cut bacon, chopped into medium pieces {you can substitute regular bacon as well}
4 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces {drumsticks, thighs, and split breasts cut in half so that each person can have some white and dark meat}
10 ounces white button mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
1 ¼ cups frozen pearl onions, thawed
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced (or ¼ teaspoon dried)
3 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 bottle (750 ml) dry red wine {a $7 - $10 bottle of medium bodied red table wine made from a blend of grapes, like Cotes du Rhone, works well, the folks at America's Test Kitchen write.}
2 ½ cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into two pieces, and chilled
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced

-Fry the bacon in a large Dutch oven over medium-low heat until crisp, about 10 minutes.  Transfer to a paper towel with a slotted spoon.  Reserve the fat in a separate small bowl.

-Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.  Heat 1 tablespoon of bacon fat in the Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking.  Add half the chicken and brown on both sides, 7 – 10 minutes. If it begins to scorch, lower the heat. Transfer chicken to a plate.  Repeat, using more bacon fat as needed, until all of the chicken is browned.  Remove skin from thighs/drumsticks and discard.

-Pour off all excess fat except for 1 tablespoon. Heat over medium heat until shimmering.  Add mushrooms, pearl onions, and ¼ teaspoon salt.  Cook for 10 – 12 minutes, until lightly browned.  Add garlic and thyme and cook 30 seconds more.  Add flour and tomato paste, stir for one minute.  Slowly whisk in the wine, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot.  Then, whisk in the broth.  Add the bay leaves.  Bring to a simmer.

-Place the chicken, along with its juices, into the pot and bring to a simmer.  Cover. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until the chicken is fully cooked.  This will take about an hour for thighs and drumsticks (170 – 175 degrees on an instant read thermometer) and only 20 minutes for the breasts (160 – 165 on the thermometer).  I simmered the thighs/drumsticks for 40 minutes, and then added the breasts.

-Transfer the chicken to a platter, tent with foil, and let rest while finishing the sauce.  Defat the braising liquid.  You can do this by letting the liquid cool for a few minutes, and then scooping the fat, which will have risen to the top, off with a metal spoon. 

-Bring the defatted liquid to a simmer and cook until thickened.  It will measure about 2 cups, and will take about 20 minutes.  Off the heat, discard the bay leaves, and then whisk in the butter.  Season to Taste with salt and pepper.  {Here, you can let the sauce cool, place the chicken back in the pot, and refrigerate overnight.  When ready to serve, simply reheat on the stove, on medium low heat until warm.} 

-To serve, on a platter, spoon the sauce over the chicken.  Sprinkle with reserved bacon and the fresh parsley.  Enjoy!


Jen said...

This is perfect! My boyfriend and I were making this sort of quick-and-easy coq au vin dinner last weekend, wishing we had a different recipe to try. We agreed that America's Test Kitchen must have a good, straight-forward recipe, and now here is this post! Thank you!

Molly said...

Jen: great! I'm happy to be of help...

Unknown said...

I am so happy that you have posted this. Just the other day I was thinking of my days in Culinary School and remembered making Coq au Vin. It was fabulous! I was thinking of making it but if my memory serves me correctly the recipe I have is enough to feed a small family of 10-15. Thank you so much for the post. I can't wait to see more. :)